When UCLA researchers asked public school teachers across the country last spring about their students’ emotional states, just over half said they thought more students were experiencing “high levels of stress and anxiety” than they had in the previous school year.
Researchers surveyed a representative sample of 1,535 teachers at public high schools around the country. In 35 follow-up interviews and an open-ended question on the survey that more than 800 teachers answered, many attributed that shift to the current political climate, said UCLA education professor John Rogers, author of the report “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump.”
The best way to measure how students are feeling is to ask them, not their teachers, said Rogers, who directs the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. But teachers are easier to survey on a national scale and can give perspective on broader patterns they see in schools, he said.
Almost a fourth of the teachers surveyed in May said they observed more contentious relationships between different student groups than they had in past years.
In schools that were mostly white, 27% of teachers reported that relationships were more contentious or polarized. In mostly nonwhite schools, 15% did.
In some cases, teachers reported that the students were mirroring national political rhetoric, Rogers said.
Tensions between different racial groups wasn’t new, many teachers acknowledged, but some said students recently had been standing up in class and using racial epithets in a way they’d never seen before.
Though the survey did not ask which groups of students were most often the aggressors, in the interviews and in the open-ended question, teachers often reported “white students taking action against nonwhite students,” Rogers said.